Employee development conversations more frequent as economy picks up

Staff training is moving up the agenda for employers running small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) as the economy improves, according to new research.

The Personal Development in the Workplace Study 2014, which polled 1,000 employees working at SMEs, found that 58 per cent of respondents felt that their employer was taking their personal development seriously, up from 52 per cent recorded in the same poll conducted twelve months ago.

The number of employees given a structured personal development plan has also increased, up 8 per cent year-on-year to 42 per cent, the study results showed.

In last year’s study, 48 per cent of respondents said they did not feel that their employer took their personal development seriously but this has now fallen to 42 per cent. But this still means that more than two-fifths of SME staff currently feel undervalued and disenfranchised in some way.

Last year 66 per cent of respondents said they didn’t have a current personal development plan, which researchers flagged as a concern because these goals “form an intrinsic part of keeping staff motivated and engaged”. However, this year that number has fallen to 58 per cent, which researchers said “shows how employers are increasingly dedicating more time and resource to providing staff with structured personal development plans which will no doubt help to improve their engagement and motivation”.

SMEs are also talking about personal development more frequently with employees than they did a year ago. Although the increase in employees reporting this is slight, rising from 34 to 35 per cent, many are reporting that they have discussed their personal development with their employer in the last six months. However, this means that 65 per cent haven’t discussed their personal development in more than six months.

Further results show that men have now overtaken women as the most engaged staff in the workplace. Last year the gender split across all questions in the survey revealed that woman feel more engaged than their male counterparts, discuss their personal development more frequently and are more likely to have a personal development plan in place. But this year the number of men who said feel that their personal development is important to their employer has risen 11 per cent year on year to 61 per cent, compared with 54 per cent of women. More than two-fifths (42 per cent) of men now have a personal development plan compared with 39 per cent of women.

Jonathan Richards, chief executive of HR software firm breatheHR who commissioned the study, said: “As a small business owner myself I’m acutely aware of the tough decisions that frequently present themselves, especially during times of recession or financial instability. While cutting back on personal development may seem like the right thing to do in these circumstances, in reality training and mentoring can still be provided on a skeletal budget, using internal resources and knowledge held within the company.

“While it is great to see that business owners are putting personal development and training back on the agenda as the economy returns to growth, it’s disappointing a large percentage still don’t provide their staff with any kind of personal development plan.”